Friday, May 07, 2010

The media then...and now

This will be an incomplete post, and I say "incomplete" because in the interest of brevity I am omitting various examples and supporting evidence. Nevertheless, I hope you will appreciate the points I am attempting to make -- and I definitely (as always) invite your comments and criticisms.

I celebrate my 25th high school reunion later this year, and that anniversary has prompted me to think how the media worked in 1985 in comparison to how they work in 2010. (And please no sarcastic jokes about the media "working"!!)

Of course, 1985 was a fascinating year, but consider that from a communication perspective:
-there was no Internet (as it is used today);
-electronic mail was non-existent;
-if you would have suggested to someone that you had "googled" them, you might have been punched in the face (or worse);
-cellular phones were clumsy, heavy and expensive;
-you couldn't take pictures with a cellular phone;
-a "blogger" sounded like something out of a bad movie (again, no jokes allowed);
-no one used the term "citizen journalist";
-cable news meant CNN;
-there were thousands more print and broadcast journalists; and,
-digital media were...uh, digital?

My point is it has taken about one generation to revamp what the media are expected to be and to do, and who can provide information to the public.

As one example, I'm reminded of an academic conference I attended perhaps 7 years ago when a news manager suggested that no TV journalist should place his or her story on the Internet until it had aired on the local station. The argument went something like this: "Why would I sacrifice the potential ratings simply to drive traffic to our Website?"

If my memory is being kind to me and that was only 7 years ago, then think about how out-of-date that statement seems. Now, TV news organizations worth their salt recognize that simply dumping their content to their Website is a mistake; the audience demands more from a news station's Website. In addition, the competencies of journalists have improved (not to mention the technology) so that it is easier than ever to post regular and fresh material to the Web.

Of course, almost anyone can post material to the Web. Consider that 25 years ago, you could not have read this blog -- because the technology that allows for it didn't exist. But today I can post my comments in about three clicks. (I can embed a link to any one of my posts in one click.)

Citizen journalists -- and I don't claim to be one -- continue to provide intriguing content but ethical challenges for mainstream news organizations. However, today the media are inviting (almost pleading with) the public to provide "I was there"-type reports to supplement - and in some cases drive -- news coverage.

Again, as one example, consider the late March bombings at the Moscow train stations. The first (and most graphic) videos were posted from individual citizens who happened to be "there" when the news happened.

We have reached a point in our collective public consciousness that we EXPECT to see this kind of video, but whether we SHOULD is an issue the media grapple with each day. Twenty-five years ago, there was no discussion because there was no such video.

In short, in 25 years the transformation to the media has been astounding. For those of us who practiced the craft in the 1990s and teach it in the 2000s, the challenge is to stay up to date with the technology without sacrificing the fundamental tenets of journalism.

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